Quarterback battle? Not really. Not yet.
Nevada’s football season is less than a month away, and third-year coach Brian Polian has not given any indication who will be running the offense in the Sept. 3 opener against UC Davis.
With the departure of Cody Fajardo, who was one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in NCAA history and is now with the Oakland Raiders, three players are vying to take his spot, and potentially a forth depending on the to-be-determined eligibility of sophomore transfer Austin Kafentzis.
Junior Tyler Stewart, sophomore Dante Mayes and redshirt freshman Hunter Fralick, Spanish Springs’ own, are the others in the running.
But Polian’s decision isn’t complicated. At least not for now.
His decision isn’t binding. Whoever starts in the season opener 23 days from now will almost undoubtedly watch from the sideline at some point against UC Davis. The decision doesn’t glue that player to the position for the rest of the season, although coaches typically prefer continuity.
After the opener, Nevada’s schedule gets angry. Arizona, which fell in last year’s Pac-12 title game to Oregon, comes to Mackay one week later. The Wildcats open the 2015 season ranked No. 22 in the nation in the Coaches Poll.
After squaring up with U of A for the second-straight year, Nevada hops on a plane to College Station, Texas, to line up against Texas A&M for the program’s first ever contest against an SEC opponent—a conference known for size and speed. A true road game against an SEC foe in one of the game’s most hostile environments doesn’t sound like a great time for a first-year starter.
A game in the Eastern Time zone, at Buffalo, is sandwiched between the date with Texas A&M and the program’s Mountain West opener at home against UNLV.
Tyler Stewart needs to be the starter leading into the Battle for the Cannon. He’s the only quarterback on the roster with any experience. And the team will need it early.
In his redshirt freshman season (2013), he played in seven games and led the Pack to a win over Hawaii in his only career start. He completed 21-of-37 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns with two picks. He also has experience playing against the big boys in a hostile environment. Although the numbers won’t wow anyone, he completed 7-of-15 passes for 49 yards in a loss at Florida State—the eventual national champion.
Stewart isn’t the sexy pick though. Many want to see the local kid, Fralick, get his shot. Those who watched the spring game saw the Spanish Springs product clearly outplay the other two quarterbacks. Kafentzis wasn’t on campus yet.
Fralick boasts a presence beyond his years and has the locker room without question, but asking someone who was taking snaps against North Valleys High School two years ago to outrun the Pac-12 and SEC in two of the first three games is too much.
The redshirt freshman will likely take a couple snaps against UC Davis, though.
Fralick, Mayes and maybe even Kafentzis will get their shot to take over the starting position after Nevada gets through Buffalo—depending on how Stewart performs. There is even precedent for a Nevada redshirt freshman quarterback taking over midway through the season.
In his first season of eligibility (2011), Fajardo took over the starting job in Week 5. He went on to win the WAC’s Freshman of the Year.
Polian claims there is a battle for the starting quarterback position. There isn’t. The real race begins at the start of MWC play.
Stewart will just get a four-game head start.
Nathan has covered local sports for The Daily Sparks Tribune since September 2013. Follow him on Twitter: @Trib_Shoup.